We love a good beach. But it doesn’t have to be all about lolling around on a sun lounger, with the occasional dip in the sea between snoozes in the shade beneath a palm tree – although we do love the sound of this. There are some pretty extraordinary beaches out there, from the black volcanic beaches of southern Iceland to the steamy spa beach on New Zealand’s North Island; and from the mind-boggling stone columns in Ireland to the picture-perfect pink sands in Crete. Here we hand-pick seven of the most unusual beaches in the world.
7. Hot Water Beach, New Zealand
Ever wanted to bring the spa to the beach? That’s exactly what you’ll find at this one on the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand. Get to the beach at low tide and dig yourself a bath in the sand; the naturally occurring mineral waters reach up to 150 degrees and provide a steamy natural hot tub. Don’t forget your spade!
While you’re here, don’t miss New Zealand’s other incredible beaches. It is also home to the beguiling Koekohe Beach, strewn with Moeraki Boulders which were formed by sea floor sediments around 60 million years ago.
6. Elafonisi, Crete
Pretty as a picture, Elafonisi is a swath of white and pink-hued sand which contrasts beautifully with the impossibly turquoise waters, and is often thought of as the best beach in Greece. The pink sand grains are actually pieces of coral that have disintegrated in the sea and been washed ashore by the waves; the Bahamas also boasts this rare beauty on Harbour Island.
We must admit that Crete’s beaches are phenomenal: from Balos in the north-west to tropical-looking Vai in the east. An island hopping holiday in Greece is the perfect way to take them all in, along with the charms of Santorini and Mykonos.
5. Giant’s Causeway, Ireland
At the mythical Giant’s Causeway, the hexagonal rock formations were conjured up by a giant, Finn MacCool, to create a pathway of stepping stones that would lead to his beloved giantess in Scotland. Finn was fought off by the giantess’s lover, so he hurled a chunk of land towards Scotland which came to be the Isle of Man. Another theory is that the rock formations were formed 60 million years ago by basalt lava, rising to the surface, cooling, and cracking into large columns.
The UK is also home to some rather spectacular beaches, including the Jurassic Coast in the south of England, where 185 million years of the Earth’s geology is on display - fossils are constantly being discovered here. Go in search of Britain's beautiful coastline on a multi-stop holiday to England and Scotland, and delight in its rugged beauty.
4. Praia da Marinha, Portugal
The Algarve in Portugal boasts a string of beaches that regularly top the list of Europe’s best, and we can’t argue with that. The limestone rocks, burnt orange and golden in hue, have been eroded to form pinnacles, crevasses and caves, which is perfect for both ramblers and photographers – the light cast on the rocks at dusk is particularly astonishing.
Similarly in New Zealand, Cathedral Cove is named so for its huge, naturally formed archways that recall those of a cathedral. The two beaches here are connected by the spectacular natural archway – an entrance like nothing else.
3. Vaadhoo, Maldives
Ever wanted to swim in a sea of stars? On Vaadhoo Island in the Maldives, you can. At night, as the stars twinkle above, so too do the bioluminescent phytoplankton in the sea, illuminating the waters in an electric blue glow. This chemical reaction sparks when the microorganism is disturbed by oxygen, and occurs in a few other beaches around the world, such as Mosquito Bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico.
Seek out the stars on a luxury trip to the Maldives, or hot-foot it to Puerto Rico on a tropical getaway to gorgeous Vieques.
2. Hyams Beach, Australia
Those on a quest to find the beach with the whitest sand need look no further: Hyams Beach in New South Wales holds the title from the Guinness Book of World Records. The powdery stretch of sand is edged in by lush forests and gin-clear waters, in an area rich in Aboriginal history. So between lolling on the immaculate beach and cooling off in the sea, discover fascinating archaeological sites that showcase rock art, stone artefacts and more.
Australia seems like it’s showing off really, what with all its spectacular beaches. Whether that’s Shell Beach in the North West, a coastline quite literally smothered with pristine shells; or Whitehaven beach in the Whitsundays, seven kilometres of pure silica sand. Tick off as many as you can on a beach break escape to New South Wales and the Whitsundays and find your own slice of paradise.
1. Vik, Iceland
Swap your sun-block for snug woollens – this stretch of sand in South Iceland certainly isn’t one for sunbathers. Vik, a beach of jet-black volcanic sand, is lapped by foamy white waves and strewn with glassy chunks of ice, making for a truly dramatic, ethereal seascape. There’s also Jökulsárlón, the black sand stomping ground for Skua, large predatory sea birds, and movie set for films such as Tomb Raider and James Bond: Die Another Day. Don't just take our word for it - see Iceland's extraordinary beaches for yourself on an adventure to the Golden Circle and South Coast.
Meanwhile, some ten thousand kilometres from Iceland, Hawaii’s Punaluu beach has been formed in a similar way - basalt lava explodes as it flows into the sea and rapidly cools. You won’t find glaciers or Skua here, though; but languid sea turtles and swaying palm trees.